It’s tough to turn on a radio, watch TV or open a news feed without having to navigate through pandemic updates and/or the latest negative campaign propaganda; so I am going to take an opportunity to shut out all the noise and focus on some positive updates from the world of Pequot Lakes Middle School.

As October came to a close, we are proud to announce that more than 500 students in grades 5-8 were able to participate in a “Relationship Retreat” to Trout Lake Camp in rural Pine River. Designed to enhance the relationship building experience that we know is critical to student success, we built this trip to bring our students and staff closer together as early as possible this school year.

Participants engaged in trust and team building activities amongst the beautiful backdrop of Big Trout Lake and the fall colors. From 10-person voyageur canoeing, to zip lines and high ropes, our students and staff reported having an amazing experience across all four grade levels.

Even our transportation department was able to partake in the fun, as Bruce, our loyal bus driver, was able to take a ride on the zip line as the students cheered him on.

We want to extend a special thank you to James Rock and the Trout Lake crew for opening up this opportunity for our students, and to our PLMS families for trusting that we could provide a safe and exciting experience for our students despite all the restrictions.

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Along the lines of relationships, we have found that homerooms have proven to be a critical part of providing a positive experience for our PLMS students. As part of our safety protocol and pre-fall planning process, students were placed in learning groups we call “homeroom pods."

In this setting, students spend the majority of their day learning in a singular space while their teachers travel from room to room delivering their content.

As we started the school year, our leadership teams were apprehensive about our students and how they might respond to a departure from our norm. We feared that the pod model - with kids not being able to stretch their legs, missing out on socializing with their peers during passing time, and a general inability to allow “kids to be kids” - might not be the most conducive environment for our middle schoolers.

Though we do miss the hallways teeming with energy, we have also found that the removal of some of these elements of the school day have actually allowed some of our students to flourish! Many students are citing less bullying and a marked drop in social pressure.

They are also noticing an increased sense of community within their learning environments. Kids are making friends and forming new relationships courtesy of time together. This outcome has certainly been a positive surprise for our middle school team.

As I type my draft for this article, I am also recognizing that our campus community has been hit hard by quarantine. As the buses left campus today, I was faced with the unsettling reality that we are uncertain about when they will return to in-person opportunities.

Be assured that PLMS will work hard to continue to provide a safe space for our learners and staff, which includes a continued commitment to learning in-person in grades five and six and an aspiration to have our seventh and eighth graders learning back on campus as soon as we can get our COVID-19 quarantine numbers in check.

Though we cannot say that we hit our mark with all of our efforts thus far this year, we wanted to highlight several things that have been going incredibly well.

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank our families for continuing to trust us during this challenging school year and to our students and PLMS staff for providing us with some success stories to highlight to our community members. We’re hoping this article helps our readers to find some positivity amongst the distractions.